Elysian trumpet tells tale of Katrina victims

URBANA – After taking his audience on a musical tour of his hometown of New Orleans on Tuesday evening at Krannert Center, Irvin Mayfield Jr. took some concertgoers on a "quick tour" of his Elysian Trumpet.

With a no-nonsense guard from the Orleans Parish sheriff's department standing next to him, the musician pointed out the many decorative features on his instrument, which he commissioned in memory of Hurricane Katrina victims, among them his own father, whose body was found along Elysian Fields Boulevard.

"It gives people a way to come together around something positive after something so tragic happened," he said.

Cut into the bell of the trumpet are lilies, to represent those that grow near Elysian Fields. Myriad other symbols on the horn represent human and other icons of the Crescent City: Professor Longhair, Jelly Roll Morton, James Booker, Mahalia Jackson, Fats Domino and Louis Armstrong; the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward; Mardi Gras; and even Hurricane Katrina, via tiny carvings of wind and water.

A snake-like inlay of 100 blue turquoise chips stands for the Mississippi River, with the Crescent City depicted by a ruby. Other precious gems no longer mined in Africa, Mayfield said, appear as well.

A chessboard cut into the trumpet alludes to his late father, who had been a "big chess player."

The 30-year-old Mayfield commissioned the Elysian Trumpet from premier trumpet maker David Monette of Portland, Ore. Monette and his workshop team usually take five years to make such an instrument. This one, conceived by Mayfield, was done in 15 months, with a team of 20 working on it 10 hours a day five days a week. They included goldsmith Tami Dean.

Lloyds of London insured the trumpet for $1 million, and it always travels with an armed guard. After it was unveiled in August, it was blessed by an interdenominational list of ministers and rabbis. The trumpet is now touring with Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a nonprofit organization he founded in 2002. The following year, Mayfield was appointed the cultural ambassador for his city.

The concert in Krannert's Tryon Festival Theatre – part of the current "You Know What It Means" tour – opened with historic shots of musical New Orleans projected on a screen at the back of the stage. The concert ended with the familiar yet still disturbing video of the city after it was damaged by Katrina in 2005. The orchestra closed with the somewhat mournful number "May His Soul Rest in Peace."

In between, the 16-piece jazz big-band celebrated in a more upbeat mood the styles and motifs of New Orleans jazz, performing mainly water-related originals such as "Rising Tide," marked by the call-and-response refrain of "Hold The Water" and "Higher Ground," inspired by advice given to Katrina flood victims by a 911 operator, Mayfield said.

The ensemble also performed the humorous "Someone Forgot to Turn the Faucet Off," inspired by Mayfield's having left the bath water running for three hours in his mother's home after getting distracted by television.

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